30 October 2009

Happy Halloween!

Happy Halloween, my friendly ghosts and ghouls! I hope your day is filled with plenty of fun, frights, family, and of course, sugary sweets. After all, this is basically the only day of the year besides Thanksgiving when gorging yourself on a particular food item is not only allowed, but encouraged. I myself will be digging into a bag of chocolate-covered pretzels tomorrow night while handing out candy to trick-or-treaters.

Sadly, my family typically does not get into the Halloween spirit. We don't dress up (though, I probably would if I had a reason... dressing up is no fun if you're simply going to sit at home), we don't decorate (I carved a pumpkin, but the rest of the house is barren), and we don't have any fun with it. For us, it's yet another excuse to eat junk food. Sad but true.

To be fair, when we were all younger, we did do the costumed, trick-or-treat, candy thing. I remember one year I was a weatherman who'd been hit by lightning... hair standing up, "burn" marks, the whole nine yards. I was also a black hole back in my astronomy phase as a little kid, but I don't remember much of that one. But now that we're all grown up, we only celebrate the Big Four Holidays: Christmas, Thanksgiving, Easter, and New Year's (with 4th of July being a semi-annual reason to stay up late and watch fireworks).

When I get my own place, I vow never to go a year without decorations of some kind for all the major holidays. I mean, shouldn't there be like a "Halloween Carol" movie for those Scrooges out there who dislike All Hallow's Eve? It's the one time a year you get to get away from yourself and be something or someone you aren't! Oh well, there's always next year.

As an aside, those of you who are actually interested in my crusade to keep funding for the NSF's political science department: no new news on the amendment's passage or failure. There's been no action on it since it was introduced on the Senate floor on Oct. 13. Updates remain forthcoming.

27 October 2009

My DBacks Pumpkin Carving Contest Entry

The Diamondbacks are holding a pumpkin carving contest, with the prize for the winner being a Brandon Webb autographed jersey. Here's a photo of the entry I submitted:

23 October 2009

Updates From the Floor

First off, thank you to all of you who read my blog posting about Sen. Coburn's amendment to cut political science funding from the National Science Foundation, and a bigger thank you to those of you who called your respective senators and asked them to vote it down (I know at least two people who mentioned to me that they called). You do your country a service by being active.

As far as an update on the amendment itself, I was hoping that it would come to a vote this week, but that didn't happen. Due to the motion to reconsider the cloture vote on the appropriations bill (HR 2847), the vote probably won't happen until next week. Good news for those of you who read this and still want to call your senators - you have time. To help in this endeavor, here is a very cool website I found with contact information for everyone in Congress (websites, emails, and fax numbers). To find a number, click on the Senator's name and check out his or her contact page. The Complete List of Email Addresses and Fax Numbers for the U.S. Congress and Governors.

In other news, AKA baseball, barring a miracle comeback from the Angels tomorrow night, it appears that the World Series will feature one of those two teams taking on the defending World Champion Philadelphia Phillies. This means my predictions of a Cardinals-Red Sox series and a corresponding Cardinals victory were completely destroyed. In fact, of all my predictions, I only got two right this postseason: the Phillies beat the Rockies. In all the other series, I incorrectly predicted the Cardinals, Red Sox, and Twins to win in the Division Series games. Bummer. Glad I didn't put any money on my predictions!

Tomorrow is the 7th anniversary celebration of Hot Corner Sports Cards, out in Mesa, Arizona, where I go occasionally to pick up a pack of cards or some supplies to (finally) organize my card collection, which used to be sitting in a shoebox in my closet; it now resides in 3 big 3" three-ring binders and two 1" three-ring binders. My goal is to start finishing some of the sets I really like, such as the 2009 Allen and Ginters cards, 2002 Donruss Studio, and 2001 Pacific (all baseball). The Allen and Ginter cards are extra-special because of a couple bonuses I rather enjoy. First, there is a parallel insert card set of "code cards." These 100 cards feature a special border and symbols which are supposed to be used to decode a secret message. You then contact the Topps company with the message, and if you are the first to decode it, you win a special set of all the A&G autographed cards in this year's set. Now, the winner's already been determined, but I want to see if I can collect all 100 cards and figure it out for myself without looking at the answer (which is posted online, if you want to search for it). The other thing I like about the A&G set is its inclusion of parallel mini cards. They come in a few types: regular minis, minis with two different types of backs, black bordered minis, and minis without numbers. There are 350 of each type, which gives a collector like me 1,750 cards to go after. Add in the 350 base cards, 100 parallel cards, a few other special insert minis, relic cards, and autographs, and I'm looking at somewhere around 3,700 cards total I can try and go for. It's certainly going to be a project!

Aside from this, the job hunt continues. I applied for holiday work at Barnes and Noble Bookstore, so we'll see if anything comes of that. I know I got a good review from one person there, who said she was going to "put a sticky note" on my resume that I was a higher-than-average candidate. We shall see.

I will add more updates on various things as I get them, as well as another political post in the next couple days. I had a fun conversation with Ryan regarding faculty and education policy that I want to write about. So look for that, and have a good week!

12 October 2009

Is Political Science A Science?

Last week, I read an interesting article from The Chronicle of Higher Education entitled "Senator Proposes an End to Federal Support for Political Science." In it, Senator Tom Coburn (R-OK) was reported as having submitted an amendment to the annual appropriations bill for the Departments of Justice, Commerce, Science, and Related Agencies for FY2010 (H.R. 2847 - link goes to the Library of Congress search page. Search for HR 2847). This amendment, S.A. 2631, says:
SA 2631. Mr. COBURN submitted an amendment intended to be proposed by him to the bill H.R. 2847, making appropriations for the Departments of Commerce and Justice, and Science, and Related Agencies for the fiscal year ending September 30, 2010, and for other purposes; which was ordered to lie on the table; as follows:
At the appropriate place in title III, insert the following:

Sec. __. None of the funds appropriated under this Act may be used to carry out the functions of the Political Science Program in the Division of Social and Economic Sciences of the Directorate for Social, Behavioral, and Economic Sciences of the National Science Foundation.
 This got me thinking, since as a political science major at college this was, and still is, very important to me. So, being a good little politico, I called up Senator Coburn's Washington, DC office. I wasn't really expecting anything. Just to maybe talk to one of the Senator's interns, have my comments taken down, and then go about my business and call Senators Kyl and McCain to also voice my opinion. Instead, I got to talk with one of the Senator's staff members, Charlotte Pineda.

When I called, she answered, and I introduced myself and said I had just read the Chronicle news story, and wanted more information about why the Senator was so keen on stopping political science research in the National Science Foundation. Instead of sidestepping me, since I wasn't a constituent of Sen. Coburn (as I've seen happen many times before), Ms. Pineda took almost 40 minutes out of her schedule to talk with me and help me understand the Senator's point of view on the issue. I was impressed, to say the least.

Here's the argument according to Ms. Pineda on behalf of Sen. Coburn: political science, as it stands, is not a hard science. It does not bring about breakthroughs and developments which can help humanity - as sciences like chemistry, biology, engineering, etc can (she called them "transformative results") - and it creates very few, if any, jobs in the national job market. Political science, as a social science, has trouble even producing fact from theories, since it cannot demonstrably prove any of its conjectures.

Ms. Pineda also provided me with a copy of the research that the Senator's office had done in support of their claim. On the one hand, NSF-"hard"-science projects certainly do produce transformative results: biofuels research, medical engineering for disabled persons, a microchip-sized fan for laptop computers which helps with cooling the system more efficiently, and "fiber-reinforced concrete" which has the ability to bend without cracking or breaking to a certain point and is 40% lighter in weight. On the other side of the coin, the NSF programs in political science that they listed included answering the question "why do political candidates make vague statements, and what are the consequences?" NSF also held a conference in the effects of YouTube on the 2008 election cycle, research by universities studying why white middle-class voters vote Republican, and the production of "The News Hour with Jim Lehrer" for coverage of the 2008 Republican and Democratic National Conventions.

On the surface, it certainly seems like a lopsided use of taxpayer dollars. But the real thing that struck me in the Senator's research was a line which read, "The National Science Foundation has misspent tens of millions of dollars examining political science issues which in reality have little, if anything, to do with science."

I started to wonder, what constitutes "science?" According to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary (1997), "science n. 1. an area of knowledge that is an object of study." (#2 deals with "natural science" which in my mind is a substrate of science itself and not a definition of just the word science.) The word hails from the Latin "scientia" meaning "knowledge," and according to a variety of internet definitions, refers best to the system of practices which result in the production of a prediction or a predictable outcome for an event. In contemporary form, science is defined by the use of the scientific method, the process of developing a theory, testing that theory, observing and then analyzing results for any given event.

Obviously, we all associate science as dealing with subjects like chemistry (soda pop, anyone?), biology (cancer research), physics (Isaac Newton), and applied sciences such as engineering or health science. We even recognize to some extent "formal science" in the field of mathematics, even though mathematics does not conform to the scientific method. Why not political science - or social sciences as a whole?

I believe that political science research can produce transformative results in society, even though those may not be monetary or tangible or affecting the creation of jobs. NSF-sponsored research on the continuing trends of globalization, for example, with respect to developing societies, when given the weight of validity equal to other observed and verifiable events as a science, may in turn help us preserve cultures and histories which would otherwise be lost to oblivion as a result of rapid forced modernization. Studying how people react in times of crisis could help our leaders produce better responsiveness and readiness plans for a major disaster. Here in Arizona, studying the aftereffects of propositions like Clean Elections Law could help us develop a better system for ensuring fairness in campaign elections reform (this one is actually ongoing, by the way).

Do these studies create jobs? No. Do they produce some tangible good that you can go out and buy? No. Are they any less important to study than the projects in the "hard" sciences? No. And here's the important question: could an entity not backed by government funding adequately carry out research like this? My answer is probably not.

This brings me to my final point. One thing in both the research provided by Sen. Coburn's office and in my conversation with Ms. Pineda that I found some fault in was the argument that any number of smaller, non-governmental entities could carry out research like this. For example, the Coburn research says "The [American National Studies grant] is to 'inform explanations of election outcomes.' The University of Michigan may have some interesting theories about recent elections, but Americans who have an interest in electoral politics can turn to CNN, FOX News, MSNBC, the print media, and a seemingly endless number of political commentators on the internet who pour over this data and provide a myriad of viewpoints to answer the same questions."

While it is true that major news networks and a wide number of internet spectators (yours truly being in a position through this blog to provide a qualified comment) do help with political research and commentary, for the most part those entities provide opinion analysis and a few major statistics for the benefit of the current television audience that day. It's a one-and-done conversation between talking heads about the highlights of white or black or Hispanic voters in rural California that isn't comprehended, much less a matter of concern, for a television audience with an attention span numbering in the tens of seconds. Why else would TV news have a flashy graphic every 30 seconds?

This is not research. This is not an acceptable form of applying scientific principles to observed events in order to try to predict the outcome. And it certainly is not something that can be peer reviewed, thought out, and rationalized in a manner which befits the scientific community.

Science is an area of knowledge that is the object of study. That includes social sciences just as much as hard sciences, and political research deserves the backing grants and funding from the government just as much as anything else the NSF researches. As for the argument that political science studies some things which may seem like a waste of money or tries to answer questions that a private survey corporation can do just as easily, well, the annual appropriations bills for the United States currently contain so much money for pork projects that it's not even funny, including millions of dollars for scientific projects such as "$4,545,000 for wood utilization research in 10 states by 19 senators and 10 representatives (engineering)," "$1,791,000 by Senate Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee member Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) for swine odor and manure management research in Ames (chemistry)," and "$150,000 by Sens. Susan Collins (R-Maine) and Olympia Snowe (R-Maine), then-Rep. Thomas Allen (D-Maine), and Rep. Michael Michaud (D-Maine) for the Maine Department of Natural Resources to conduct lobster research (I'll call this one biology)." These examples are from Citizens Against Government Waste's Pig Book 2009.

I urge the Senators from Arizona and across the nation to vote no this week (as I believe that is when it comes for a vote) on SA 2631, amending HR 2847.

04 October 2009

Postseason Prediction Updates

If you read my prior post on the postseason races and compared them to the matchups, you will see that I was expecting the Cardinals and Phillies to be playing the opposite teams in their series. However, the Phillies ended up with a better record than the Cardinals, and therefore I must update my predictions.

NLDS A: Rockies vs. Phillies
Prediction: Phillies in 3 games.

NLDS B: Cardinals vs. Dodgers
Prediction: Cardinals in 4 games.

ALDS A: Red Sox vs. Angels
Prediction: Red Sox in 5 games.

ALDS B: Twins OR Tigers vs. Yankees
If Twins, then: Twins in 5 games.
If Tigers, then: Yankees in 3 games.

NLCS: Cardinals vs. Phillies
Prediction: Cardinals in 5 games.

ALCS: Red Sox vs. Yankees OR Twins vs. Red Sox
If the former is true, then: Red Sox in 7 games.
If the latter is true, then: Red Sox in 5 games.

World Series: Cardinals vs. Red Sox
Prediction: Cardinals in 6 games.

03 October 2009

Happy October!

We survived another Arizona summertime, folks! Over 110 days of triple-digit heat, and what I believe is the 10th driest summer on Arizona recordbooks, since our monsoons never really kicked in. Actually, I don't think we even got one good dust storm the whole summer.

October means new beginnings for a lot of things for me: I get to start hiking again around some of the trails here in Mesa. Now that the weather is cooler, relatively speaking, I won't feel like dying after walking a few feet out of my car, and I won't consider myself inside an oven when I get into a vehicle.

October also means postseason baseball. Even though my Diamondbacks sucked big time this year, I will still enjoy watching the Rockies and Cardinals try to claim the World Series trophy for their own. If you're watching it, the Rockies can actually still win the NL West by beating the Dodgers today and tomorrow... it's intense!

And October means I get to start my door-to-door job hunting again. I consider it too hot to drive around and job hunt on the streets around retail establishments during the summer months, so the cooler weather means I have to get back to work in that department. For the past three to four months, I've been one of the 17% of unemployed job seekers that has stopped looking almost completely because of the lack of jobs out there. I need to find my motivation and get going again.

Finally, October also means the start of what I consider "Holiday Row." I have my sister's birthday here in just a couple days, then mom's mid-month, followed by Halloween, Election Day, Veteran's Day, my brother's birthday, Thanksgiving, my birthday, Dutch Christmas, Christmas, and New Year's. Lots of planning to do now!